Duterte leaves Napoles case in Aguirre's hands

Dharel Placido, ABS-CBN News

Posted at Mar 22 2018 12:13 AM

President Rodrigo Duterte, alleged "pork barrel queen" Janet Napoles, and Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II. ABS-CBN News file photos

MANILA - President Rodrigo Duterte on Wednesday said he is letting his alter ego, Justice Secretary Vitaliano Aguirre II, deal with the case of alleged pork barrel scam key player Janet Lim Napoles, as current administration moves to make the controversial businesswoman a state witness.

Duterte said he wonders why Aguirre got himself into “trouble” over Napoles’ case, but he noted this was a result of the justice secretary’s legal strategy.

“Si Vit Aguirre, hindi ko alam kung bakit nasabit ‘yan dito kay Napoles. Eh diskarte iyan niya eh,” Duterte said in his speech at the Mayor Rodrigo Roa Duterte National Executive Coordinating Committee (MRRD-NECC) National Convention in Pasay City.

The Department of Justice last month provisionally accepted Napoles to the witness protection program, a move that drew criticism.

Aguirre, who wields vast powers in the handling of criminal cases as justice secretary, alleged that Napoles was “not the most guilty” in the scam and qualifies as a state witness.

“Kapag plunder sino ba ang dapat i-demanda dyan? Hindi ba government officials? Kung government officials, si Janet would be just a co-conspirator. Being a co-conspirator, she is not the most guilty,” Aguirre said in a press briefing on Tuesday.

He admitted he met with Napoles about two months ago wherein the latter offered to “tell all” that she knows about the pork barrel scam.

Administration critics, some of whom belonged to the previous administration, have criticized the government’s move to “provisionally” accept Napoles as state witness in potentially new pork barrel scam-related cases. 

They said Napoles will be too willing to implicate them in the scam just to get on the good side of President Rodrigo Duterte.

Aguirre dismissed allegations that the government was forging a deal with Napoles in exchange for working on her release. Napoles remains behind bars as she faces trial for her plunder and graft cases before the Sandiganbayan in relation to the pork barrel scam.

“Sila ang lumapit and I believe justice will be done if Janet Napoles will be allowed to speak and tell the whole truth about this,” Aguirre said.

Napoles has repeatedly argued that she should not be charged with plunder, an offense where bail is not a matter of right, because she is not a public official.

The Supreme Court, in hearing Napoles’ bail petitions, had already dismissed this argument, saying a private individual can still be charged with plunder if the act was made in conspiracy with public officials.

Several politicians, including former senators Jinggoy Estrada, Juan Ponce Enrile, and Bong Revilla, have been charged under the administration former president Benigno Aquino III with plunder and graft in connection to the scam, which saw billions of congressional pork barrel funds funneled into bogus non-government organizations allegedly set up by Napoles.

Aquino’s critics, however, said there was "selective justice" in the handling of the pork barrel scam cases during his term, as lawmakers deemed unfriendly to his administration were the only ones indicted.

Lawyer Levito Baligod, a former lawyer of pork barrel scam key witness Benhur Luy, said there was no need to make Napoles a witness as there are already pork barrel scam-related cases against members of the Liberal Party, Aquino’s political party.